Forza Horizon 5 Review: The Best Open-World Driving Game Keeps Expanding
Need an escape? Forza Horizon 5 is about as good as it gets without leaving your couch.
"Welcome home," the on-screen pop-up reads every time I check into one of the multiple estates I've purchased within Forza Horizon 5's digital interpretation of Mexico. In this instance, the camera slowly pans towards La Casa Solariega, a sprawling manor property with a water feature in the driveway and six guest rooms, as a bright orange Lamborghini Huracán Performante—my Lamborghini Huracán Performante—nonchalantly pulls in towards the front door. It's definitely one of Horizon 5's quietest moments but this, ladies and gents, is how you do millennial fantasy fulfillment—let us own both a car and a house. It's also a prime example of what this game, at its core, is all about: taking a lifestyle that most of us could only dream of and putting it on the screen in glorious 4K.
And it accomplishes that mission spectacularly. Within the first few minutes of gameplay, you will have driven a Ford Bronco down an active volcano after dropping out of an airplane and raced a Mercedes-AMG One hypercar against said airplane. It's a hell of a way to start, but the over-the-top fun doesn't stop there.
Forza Horizon 5: By the Numbers
- Base price (as tested): $59.99 or $9.99 per month with Xbox Game Pass ($99.99)
- Platforms: Xbox Series X|S | Xbox One | PC
- Cars: 500+
- Quick take: The "best arcade racing game of all time" is back and better than ever.
What Is Forza Horizon? What Do You Do In It?
For the people in the back, Forza Horizon is the open-world spinoff of Xbox's Forza Motorsport racing video game franchise. This fifth entry happens to be the first new Forza title—Horizon or Motorsport—since 2018, and marks the first one to debut on the new generation of Xbox Series X and Series S consoles. A new-gen edition of the more serious and circuit-based Forza Motorsport is forthcoming but, for now, FH5 is Xbox's flagship racing game.
Like a globe-trotting series of action movies, each Forza Horizon game takes place in a different part of the world. Past entries have seen the in-game Horizon Festival's proverbial and literal traveling tents set up in Colorado, southern Europe, Australia, and the UK. This time around, we're in Mexico.
After quite a few hours of gameplay, I'm still not quite sure if my in-game character is officially part of the "Horizon" racing-and-music festival's organizing staff or just a niche-famous driver—the game keeps referring to me as a "superstar driver"—whose performance, for whatever reason, dictates when and where the Festival gets to expand. But, truth be told, sound narrative justification and character motivation are likely the last things anybody cares about when playing a Forza game. All I wanna do is collect cars, drive 'em fast, and have my ego stroked a little. And when it comes to that, Forza Horizon 5 absolutely delivers.
As I already suspected from the short, early look I got last month, Forza Horizon 5 is immensely good fun. The car list is vast and diverse. The environments are beautiful and varied. The driving physics are accessible yet still authentic. And the racing is as entertaining as ever.
A healthy array of event types, side-mission-esque tasks, and passive driving challenges make sure there's always something to do and that you're always leveling up. These include Horizon mainstays such as garden-variety sanctioned road races, off-road dirt racing, very off-road cross-country scrimmages, nighttime and less-sanctioned street races, and drag racing. Showcases, a small handful of undoubtedly Top Gear-inspired events in which you race a provided vehicle of note against a non-car method of transportation, also make a return and remain dopamine-releasing cool.
New for Horizon 5 are what the game calls "Expeditions": special driving missions that unlock additional Horizon Festival outposts, safe areas where you can buy new cars, customize acquired ones, and just chill out and catch your breath. Each Expedition mission feels like it was designed to show off a specific topographical segment of the map and indeed provides some of FH5's most visually epic moments but, like Grand Theft Auto, the game is equally if not more enjoyable just fooling and driving around sans agenda.
Hunt down and satisfyingly smash into XP boards. Rake in skill points by driving in an exuberant manner. Look for rare Barn Find cars. Engage in one of the many mini driving challenges sprinkled across the map that test how well you can speed, drift, and jump across Mexico. Or just aimlessly explore, taking in the splendor of it all. There's always something to do nearby in sunny and sandy Mexico and that something almost always results in more XP, more credits, more cars, and more fun. You are the Superstar Driver and can do no wrong.
Product of Its Environment
Granted, virtual Mexico isn't always sunny and sandy because Horizon 5's open-world—the series' biggest yet—encompasses 11 different "biomes" such as the obligatory desert lands, wetter, greener jungle areas, built-up cities and villages, and wide-open beaches. A day-night cycle and dynamic weather are gimmes, but making a return from FH4 are four distinct seasons that change for all players every Thursday. Unlike the four seasons of the UK, however, Mexico's four seasons look quite different. Instead of a dry and bright summer, orange foliage-filled autumn, snowy winter, and rainy spring, Horizon 5—mimicking the weather patterns of Mexico IRL—cycles between a hot season, a wet season, a stormy season, and a dry season.
Speaking of new features that adapt to a new environment, the character customization feature that lets you configure and clothe your in-game avatar to your personal taste is back. This time around, though, face masks can now be part of your digital attire. My headcanon is that COVID did indeed happen within the Forza Horizon universe but only lasted the two weeks we all thought it would back in mid-March 2020. This is, after all, the brightest timeline in which Mercedes hypercars drop out of the back of planes and an entire street racing festival can take over a country without ever hearing any complaints from the locals or the police.
A Car Game to the Core
Cars, the true focal point of any Forza game and of which there are more than 500 at launch, feel and sound appropriately distinct. While my deputy editor Kristen Lee has been known to reconfigure every car she virtually owns into an all-wheel-drive rally monster, I'm a believer in keeping things in factory spec and using the right tools for the right job. When faced with a dirt or cross country race, for example, I'm inclined to deploy my big, badass Bronco R that I've since grown quite fond of. Long, high-speed road race? The magnificent-sounding Lexus LFA has yet to let me down. Game is offering five Forzathon points to sustain 250 mph for more than five seconds? The uncannily speedy Porsche Taycan Turbo S it is. You feel like nearly any car you can think of is at your fingertips, and rather than just mess around with them on a racetrack like in the Motorsport games, here, you're challenged to try out different things in them.
On top of offering an appropriately wide variety of rides, you can also tell the dev team consists of true, dyed-in-the-wool car people via a bunch of little touches, such as the use of the word "Vocho" in reference to the VW Beetle. Or the neon-heavy street racing outpost and livery editor menu image that's a clear sendup of Netflix's Hyperdrive set, and the fact that the first entry of the A80 Toyota Supra's car mastery skill tree is labeled "Is That a Supra!?"
Given how good Forza Horizon 4 already was and how little Horizon 5 deviates from that same schtick, I can't exactly say I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this latest installment of the Forza saga. At its core, this is essentially the same game as Horizon 4, just bigger and slightly prettier. Does part of me wish the developers would shake things up a little and do something a little different and a little new? Sure, but reflecting on the point some more, I can't really offer any justification for it that doesn't boil down to "change for the sake of change." The Horizon series has a winning, immensely enjoyable formula here and I can't really blame anyone for sticking to it. Like its predecessors, Forza Horizon 5 is visually spectacular, runs on 93 octane, and revels in fantasy fulfillment.
Go literal treasure hunting in the new Land Rover Defender. Max out a Bugatti Chiron on the public highway. Be the five-millionth person to put TE37s on your Subaru WRX STI. Win a street race against a grid of other, multi-million dollar classics in your Ferrari 330 P4. Buy yet another mansion with your winnings. It's all happening inside Horizon 5's massive, gorgeously rendered open world and I don't ever really want to leave.
When we reviewed Forza Horizon 4, we called it "the best arcade racing game of all time." Praise like that is hard to top but I'm gonna go one step further and say Forza Horizon 5 is the greatest, most fun piece of software published by the Microsoft Corporation. Eat your heart out, Excel.
Forza Horizon 5 is available now on all Xbox consoles, Xbox One-and-newer, as well as PC.
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